"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Godmother: 10 Years in Western Australia

I don’t know who first used the term. Maybe it was Shaun Kaesler, an ultrarunner and race director of several ultramarathon events in Western Australia. I have become known as the godmother of trail and ultrarunning in WA. Shaun even notarised it a few months ago via a lovely “valour” award for 2018 at his Lighthorse Ultra – for service to ultrarunning in WA.


As I write this, I’m on a mountain top at 2,300 metres in Switzerland, and there are just 3 days before I race the 49km+3600m Matterhorn Ultraks Sky race. I’m 49 years old, so I’m in the W40-49 age group. Barely. Two more wrinkles and I'm into W50 ;) I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be W50 so much until now!

Though this race is definitely too short for me to obtain a top rank, it’s a race that really interested me. Two of my key principles for life are "Least Regret" and "Rush: Perishable" (these human bodies don't last forever). I don’t get motivated choosing races based on whether I might win. I choose primarily by whether I feel there to be a personal challenge - a feeling that the race is a journey of some sort. This race has so much character, the course has flow (even when it’s straight up!), and the Zermatt area is absolutely stellar. I’ll certainly race (live tracking link) to the best of my ability, that’s for sure. Bring on “near puke” running for 7 hours – I’m in!

Recce run in July - selfie at Gornergrat (3130m) - 16km point of the Ultraks Sky race
Thinking about being 49 and chasing “kids” up mountains got me thinking about my “godmother” (not grandmother, I have to remember!) moniker. My 10 year anniversary in WA corresponds pretty closely to my number of years racing ultras, as well. Naturally, pioneers like to reminisce about the old days (good or otherwise).

So, with that in mind, pull up a rocking chair and I’ll spin a yarn or two….

I landed in Perth, the most geographically remote city in the world, on the last day of May 2008, as the recipient of an international PhD scholarship. I knew no one.

I remember trail and ultra running in WA when…
    6 Inch Trail Marathon finish - December 2008
  • WA had one official ultramarathon – the WAMC 40 Miler. It ran out-and-back 4 times over a 16km stretch of wide, pretty flat, railway-grade gravel trail. Most of the runners of that event seemed to be in training for the Comrades road ultra in South Africa. I’d never even heard of Comrades until I moved to WA. And no one in WA had ever heard of the Western States 100 miler.
  • 6 Inch Trail Marathon in 2008 (fatass) and 2009 had 20 starters at each. Two rubbish bins with a tie-down strap formed the finish line.
  • My first solo bush run was July 2008, after I bought myself a $750 car. I drew a mud map on paper and went to suss out the “King of the Mountain” course in the Helena Valley. I had been very excited when I’d heard about the upcoming 16km trail race. I was thrilled to find it involved a river crossing, but left disappointed at the fact that I was running along a pipeline-access gravel road in a valley. There were so many hills around. Why wasn’t anyone running them??
    Australia Day Kings Park run Jan 2009 - no packs (except me)
  • There was no place in Perth called The Running Centre. Or The Running Warehouse.
  • I joined a large group of runners for my first Australia Day, January 2009, to run in Kings Park. I was the only one who wore a hydration pack. We ran from water fountain to water fountain.
    Garmin arm workout
  • The Running Centre opened, but they didn’t sell trail- and ultra-specific gear. How could they, when the market comprised 20 people?
  • No one knew what Clif Bloks, Sharkies, Honey Stingers, or GU chomps were, nor trail running gaiters. I would pay $75 in shipping to get several months of running fuel sent from North America.
  • I took people to Wungong for the first time January 2009 and they said, “I can’t believe it took a Canadian to show us this place” and “8.43 pace?!?”
  • In September 2009, Dave Kennedy hosted the fatass “Waterous 100 mile” race. There were two entrants, Dave and Rob. I went to pace Rob. The funniest moment was when Rob’s wife, Sue, asked before the start, “Where’s everyone else?” and Rob told her there was no one else.
  • I had a Vodaphone SIM in a flip phone that was essentially useless in the bush.
  • I ran with a huge Garmin Forerunner 101 on my bicep that used AAA batteries and could not be connected to a computer to upload or download anything. I found my way using the breadcrumb trail, making pencil and paper drawings on the fly, and by leaving cryptic markings at junctions in case I found myself having run in a circle!
    Waterous (aka WTF) 100 miler start - Sept 2009
  • I created the Perth Trail Series and one of the first items of swag was “tubies” (a Buff-like tube of fabric). I told people this was going to be the most amazing item of running kit they never knew they needed so badly until they had one.
  • Perth Trail Series held the first event in mid-January 2012. I originally thought it would be a series of 5 short (8 - 19km) trail races run over the summer months and that it would go into dormancy for nine months each year. A primary goal was to give people a means to get into the sport of trail running (without having to do a 46km race as their entry point!) and "create" ultra runners in the process. I anticipated having a different volunteer race director running each event. I’d oversee the whole thing. I quickly realised it was going to be much harder “herding cats” than simply being the sole cat.

I remember when I could name every trail and ultrarunner in WA on my 10 fingers. It’s bittersweet that I can’t name even 1 out of 10 who cross the finish line at a trail running event now. But as long as the ethos is in all of us, we’re all still trail family. Keep looking after each other out there, WA, I've just got the matter of a 7 day stage race to attend to after Matterhorn and I'll be back! Well, there might also be a quick trip to China in October....

Running with some of the extended trail family in Tenerife in June

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